Year/Course: 2023-2024, Lent 2024
Project type: Medical

Inventor: Dr. Matthew Collings, Archaeology & Peptinsure

The team in Archaeology has developed extensive expertise in analysing ancient food residues and parchment and leather samples. Through their data analysis techniques they have been able to progress from only identifying 3% of the compounds present in a food sample to now being able to identify closer to 90%.

The sampling technique uses a simple mass spectrometer to do the chemical analysis, but traditionally this has shown many unidentified substances. By painstaking research, the inventor has built software and datasets to identify not only what the substances originally were, but also how they have been degraded over time and by cooking techniques. The sampling technique is simple and low cost, so has been used by the inventors in schools as a way to excite children about Archaeology.

Examples of ways that the inventor has used the technique include:

  • Identifying the species of animal used for leather objects
  • Identifying the species of animal and glue-manufacturing techniques used in parchment books 
  • Identifying food compounds found on ancient pots, including understanding what temperatures they have been heated to and what cooking methods were used

The inventor is now looking to make the technique available more widely and to use it in other applications. For example, many food manufacturing processes use rendered proteins as ingredients, in which case the system could be used for quality control to check what protein has actually been provided and whether it has been processed appropriately (for example meat which carries a BSE risk is meant to be heated to a higher temperature than other meats to ensure all lipids are removed). Other possible uses include looking at the effects and progress of aging or of certain diseases or identifying the types of leather used in clothing and accessories.

The challenge for the i-Team is therefore to investigate and recommend other applications for this extensive dataset and the inventor’s expertise. Any systems with proteins may be accessible by this method, though it seems to be of most value when there is a degree of protein degradation in the system. Through interviewing relevant industry experts, the i-Team will help the inventor decide the best future direction for the development of this technology.